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Sermon and Worship Resources for Ordinary 31 - Proper 26 - Year A
Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7,33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
"Entering Into The Promised Land" - Rev. Kim Gilliland

This sermon was written by the Rev. Kim Gilliland (kgilliland@gosfieldtel.com) of the United Church of Canada for Ordinary 31. Kim posted this sermon to his Internet Page titled "Sermons from The Espanola Pastoral Charge" in 1999. Kim has since moved from Espanola and the page has been discontinued. These resources are reproduced with permission on the "Sermons and Sermon - Lectionary Resources" site.

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE: God was with the people of Israel when they left Egypt.
ALL: God is with us now.
ONE: God gave the people hope as they travelled through the desert.
ALL: God gives us the courage to step out in faith.
ONE: God is with us wherever we go.
ALL: Come, let us worship the Lord.


PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy God, your power fills the universe with light and love. Your tender hand caresses those who are suffering and wounded. You welcome strangers and care for the lonely. We are awed by the amazing extent of your compassion. Meet us where we are. Speak to us in ways that we understand. Come to us, O God, in our time of worship. Still our hearts and minds. Renew our spirits and fill us with the life that only you can offer.


PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We confess, Merciful God, that out lives are burdened by the weight of our sinfulness. We are overwhelmed by the things that we cannot accept and by the expectations that others have for us. We have hurt others by what we have said and not said. We have wounded our sisters and brothers with deeds done and left undone. At times, we have been careless, thoughtless and unkind. We are bold to ask you to lift the burdens of our worry and guilt from our shoulders. Love us and forgive us as we stand in your presence.


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

We are sisters and brothers in Christ, adopted children of the most High God. Our salvation was purchased by the blood of Jesus our Brother on the Cross. In his name, we have forgiveness and reconciliation with God. We are cleansed and purified by the faith that we have in Christ.


DEDICATION OF OFFERING

You, O God, are the giver of all gifts. We look at what we have and realize that we are blessed. We ask that you would bless us with generous sharing and warm hearts. All that we have is yours. You hold that deed of every item that we own. Enable us to use our resources for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray.

COMMISSIONING


God has brought us to a new land. It is not so much a land with national borders as it is a spiritual realm. What we have been given, we are called to share. May our lives, our words and our actions be the invitation that others need to step out in faith and receive Christ.



ENTERING THE PROMISED LAND
The Rev. Kim F.Gilliland

While the people walked across on dry ground, the priests carrying the LORD's Covenant Box stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan until all the people had crossed over.       Joshua 3: 17


WADING INTO TROUBLED WATERS>

We come, this morning, to yet another pivotal point in life of the people of Israel. Their journey is almost over. They are standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River looking across to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, the land that God promised to them when they left the slavery of Egypt 40 years earlier.

These are not the same people, however, who escaped from the land of Egypt. The men and women who began the journey from slavery into freedom have all died, their bodies buried in the wilderness. The ones who stand on the banks of the Jordan are their sons and daughters, granddaughters and grandsons.

While they are a different people, they are facing a very similar crisis to what their ancestors did a generation earlier. Like their parents and grandparents, they are being confronted by water. Before them is the Jordan River. It is flowing strong from the rains of the harvest season. The water gushes in great torrents as it flashes past the banks, effectively blocking their progress. They cannot wade very far into its depths for fear of being swept away and drowned.

This scene at the end of the Exodus is, I think, reminiscent of what happened at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. At that time they, also, were blocked by water. Then it was the waters of the Red Sea. Deep water was before them. Pharaoh's armies were behind them. All seemed lost.

But God intervened. The waters were parted on the left and on the right. The people crossed on dry ground and escaped Pharaoh's wrath. God saved the people as they began their Exodus journey.

Forty years later, the people, once again, find their way impeded by water. This time it is not the quiet waters of the Red Sea. It is, rather, the raging wrath of the Jordan River. If the people are going to cross, they, once again, will need to see the hand of God.

The miracle of this story is that God, once again, intervenes. Joshua, the new leader of the people, is told to have the priests pick up the Ark of the Covenant which contains the tablets of the Ten Commandments and to wade into the raging waters. When they obey, the Jordan stops flowing, dammed upstream so that the ground dries up where the waters used to flow. As long as the priests stand in the river bed, the waters stop flowing. But, when all of the people are across and the priests ascend the opposite bank into the Promised Land, the waters resume their course and, once again, rage towards the Dead Sea.

I think that it is interesting that the Exodus journey ends the same way the it began. At both points, the way is blocked. At both points, God intervenes and miraculously enables Israel to go where it is called to go.

There also is something else that is similar. In both stories, not only does God act. The people also act. In both situations, the people step out in faith to see what God will do. Once they have made that step of faith, they realize that God is there them.

What does this story mean to us? Think about this: All of us do know that there are times in our lives when it feels as if we are wandering in the wilderness. Perhaps we also have seen the Promised Land but were afraid to enter it. We were afraid, that is, until faith allowed us to take the tentative steps into the chaotic waters of life.

WADING INTO THE WATERS OF SOBRIETY

Don (not his real name) was a man in his mid-forties. He had spent many years of his life wandering in the wilderness. But it wasn't a desert wilderness. It was a wilderness of alcohol addiction.

Don was like many other people. He began to drink as part of his teenage rebellion. He'd go off with the guys to sneak a few brew in the bushes when they thought that no one was watching. I suppose that young men have done that since the beginning of time and probably will continue to do so until the rapture.

Eventually, most of us grow out of it. Most people grow up and get more responsible. They put aside childish things and take up more mature pursuits. But when most of his friends had given up the party scene, Don just kept at it. Even when he got married and had a child, he didn't change very much. He would come home plastered at least a couple of times a week, pass out on the couch and have a monumental hang over the next morning.

When his friends began to ostracize him, he began to drink at home - when he thought no one was looking. He had bottles stashed all over the house. There was one in the garage and another in the workshop. He kept one under the front seat of his car and another out back in the tool shed.

Don had become addicted. He, of course, denied it. His family, at least for a while, tried to hide it. But no one was hiding anything from anyone. The sick days at work began to pile up. The family got behind in its bill payments.

Finally, one day, he showed up at work drunk. He received a warning. It happened again, and he was reprimanded. Once more, he was told and that would be it. He would be out of job. It was about this same time that his wife decided that she had had enough. Don arrived home one day and she and their daughter were gone. It was made abundantly clear that the only way they would come home would be if he sobered up.

"But I don't have a problem," he pleaded with them. In fact, he knew better. He just didn't want to admit it to himself. People like Don never do.

By the time he came into my office, he had lost or was on the verge of losing almost everything that was ever important to him. I don't know why he turned to a pastor - he wasn't exactly a church goer - but he did. Maybe it was because, at the time, I worked in the church that he used to attend as a child.

I spoke with Don for a long while. In his heart, he realized what he was doing and why but he didn't know how to change it. "I know what I have to do," he said to me. "If ever I am to get my life back on track, I'm going to have to stop drinking but I don't know if I can do it." Don poured out his heart and told me of his fears. He was afraid of losing the few friends that he still had. He was afraid of detox. Most of all, I think that he was afraid of failure. I could see the fear in his eyes and the despair. It was the same look that I am sure was on the faces of the people of Israel as they looked across to the Promised Land on the other side of the Jordan, so near yet so far away. Then he came out with the most amazing statement. "I know that I can't do it on my own," he said. "I know that I need help."

I looked at him and told him that I would help him in anyway that I could.

He looked back rather perplexed and said, "I wasn't thinking about you. I was thinking about God. Will God help me?" That put me in my place but I assured him that God would help him if he just stepped out in faith into the chaotic waters that were before him.

Praise be to God, that Don found the faith and the courage to step out in faith and enter the turbulent waters that would lead to his Promised Land of sobriety. He had lots of help along the way. His family stood beside him as he went through detox. He got involved in a local AA group and went through the twelve steps. He also rediscovered a faith, long dormant, which sprouted to life. It hasn't been a bundle of roses. He has had his tough times, even fell off of the wagon more than once but he has found his Promised Land. It all happened because he discovered the faith to make those first tentative steps into the turbulent waters that were before him.

WADING INTO THE WATERS OF HAPPINESS

I remember Karen (again, not her real name). Much of the last year had been spent wandering in the wilderness. It wasn't a desert wilderness. Neither was in an alcoholic wilderness. It was a wilderness of despair. Despair at what? Despair at her life which seemed to have no purpose or direction.

It wasn't as though she didn't do anything. She did. She had raised two children as a single parent. They were good kids too, moved south, found work and were looking after themselves quite well. Karen had a job that paid her well and provided good benefits. She had everything she needed for a good life ... except one thing.

She was miserable. Her life had become totally unsatisfying. She was 48 years old and she hated her job at the plant. It was sheer drudgery. She hated the prospect of going to work everyday but knew that if she didn't the bills wouldn't get paid. What was she going to do? Spend the next 17 years waiting for retirement? She knew too many people who did just that and she didn't want to be one of them.

Karen had a good friend in whom she confided. This friend knew of Karen's struggles and her dissatisfaction with life because Karen complained about them almost every time they got together. She had heard it more times than she could count. One day, partly out of exasperation, partly out of genuine concern her friend told her so. They were out at Tim Horton's and Karen was going into the same diatribe when her friend put down her cup of expresso and said, "Well, if you don't like it, do something about it! It's your life and you have to live it. The only one who can change it is you and if you really want to change then you had better start making some choices."

At first Karen was flabbergasted, angry might be a better word. But she took her friend's words to heart. She really was the only one who could change her life. She was responsible for her own happiness. No one else could help her with it. If changes were going to be made then she was going to have to make them.

The problem was that the changes that she wanted to make looked so scary. How could she give up her security? What would she do? What she was feeling was, no doubt, similar to what the people of Israel experienced as they looked cross the raging waters to the Promised Land on the other side of the Jordan. It seemed so near yet so far away.

Karen will tell you that that the changes happened slowly and gradually. But every change happened with prayer. It also happened with the support of those who were nearest and dearest to her.

The first thing she did was to go back to night school. Karen took some courses in bookkeeping and basic accounting. She learned how to do a business plan and where to get financing.

Karen had a dream and two years later, that dream came true when she opened the Crystal Bell gift shop in the city where she lives. It started off in a modest way. There was Karen and two part time employees. The business has grown, however, and become established. There have been sacrifices along the way. She knows that she probably will never make the kind of money that she did at the plant. She has too look after her own health insurance and all of that kind of stuff but she is infinitely happier with her life. For the first time in years, she is satisfied with what she does. Her life has purpose and meaning again.

She praises God everyday for her new life and she realizes that it all happened because she discovered the faith to make those first tentative steps into the turbulent waters that were before her.

HAVING THE FAITH TO CROSS THE RIVER

There are many people in this world who feel as though they are wandering around in the wilderness. They are trapped in a life that is neither good for them nor part of God's plan for them. That wilderness has many names: alcoholism; despair; pornography; gambling; grief; depression; abuse; adultery.

So many people feel trapped in their lives. They often have a sense of what the Promised Land look likes but they have no idea of how to get there. It is as though a raging river rushes between them and what God wants them to do with their lives.

When that happens, we need to have the courage to step out in faith. Like the people of Israel, we must venture down to the torrents of water and take the first tentative steps to a new life. What we will discover is the same thing that Don discovered, Karen discovered and the Israel discovered. We will discover that God is there and that, when we walk where God would have us go, God prepares the way and makes it possible.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

The Spirit speaks and beckons us to listen. Open us, God, to your message of faith, hope, and love. Fill us to overflowing with the Good News of Christ. May your Holy Spirit transform us and make us new in the likeness of Jesus our Lord.

There are, in this world, many people with many messages. Each one wants us to hear what they have to say. Many of those messages contain words of comfort and peace, hope and challenge. They speak to us of how we should be as Christians in the world and they call us to live in your way.

Many other messages, however, are less holy. Some call us to turn from you and to worship idols of our own making. Help us, O God, to distinguish the spirits of the messages that we may hear your words in the din of the noise around us. Urge us, prod us, bless us as we journey down the path that you would have us walk.

We have prayed for ourselves. We pause, now, to pray for the other Churches in our community. We lift up to you the congregation of (the names of some of the local congregations in the area). May the message which Paul shared with the people at Thessalonica ring forth from all Christian Churches that the Good News may be shared and lives changed. May we find unity in our faith. We remember, also, those whose faith is other than Christian. May we learn to respect and support one another in spite of our difference as we search for truth and peace.

Finally, we pray for the sick of our congregation and community. Our prayers are lifted up for (name those in need of prayers for healing). Grant them your blessing and healing this day and forever.

God of Peace, grant us your peace. God of Hope, fill us with hope. God of Love, make us vehicles through which that love is shared.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


copyright - sermon by Rev. Kim Gilliland, 1999 - 2005
          - page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
          please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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